Adam Byatt recently posted a piece about artists getting paid (or not), in response to a piece written by an artist named Amanda, who was responding to a letter that was sent to her by an artist named Amy.
Adam, Amanda, Amy… All artists. I’m thinking of changing my name to Arus (and it shall be pronounced A-roos, with a roll on the “r” if you can manage it) — at least for the purposes of writing this post.
I’ve been chatting off and on for several years about this topic with another artist, Cara. We both believe that giving abundantly provides abundant returns.
The question is: Where should artists stand when it comes to being paid for their work?
Before I even begin to answer that question, let me throw out a few particularly random, but relevant, thoughts.
The boom of the internet and the technology explosion have collectively oversaturated the market with good works at little to no cost. Nearly everybody with a smartphone can take a better-than-decent photo. Pretty it up on Instagram, Hipstamatic, or even iPhoto, and you can put together a great virtual album of photos worthy of their share of oohs and aahs, all of which will happen in a matter of seconds before friends and followers flip through their newsfeeds and move on to the next batch of artistic creations.
Never before have we been able to read so much, so immediately, and so efficiently. There’s a lot of good writing out there in the blogosphere, and virtually all of it is for free.
We are getting our “fix” of great art stuff — both making it and receiving it — and we don’t have to pay a dime for it. In fact, even when we want to purchase local artists’ works, we often have too many choices, and we simply cannot buy everybody’s books and photos that we would like to.
So where does that leave the artists who are trying to make a living through their creations?
We are being forced to rethink how we market our work (if at all), and to whom.
We cannot stop creating our photos, our sketches, our stories. It is a part of who we are; it is what we do, what we know, and what defines us.
We can choose other professions that sustain an income while we “dabble” with our art, but that’s not who we are. Our work suffers, and our contributions are never as significant as they should be. And, when we do invest a great deal of energy into a specific project, the returns are negligible, at best.
I have likened it in the past to CPR compressions. It’s getting harder and harder to create a product that isn’t on constant marketing life support. The minute we stop pumping energy into that product, it expires within a few days.
On Adam’s post, one commenter wrote that she has found a way around the “friends network” problem; she bypasses her local audience completely and sells her work in markets that are looking to buy high quality art.
This makes sense, and I think it’s worth a try to make that work if you are serious about making a living from your work. But it also saddens me to think that we need to go outside of our general community to have our work taken seriously. (For the record, I am ever grateful for the tight-knit group of supporters who has always purchased my stories and my photos.)
For me, I’m returning to some traditional means of publishing — sharing a little less online and through self-publishing, and submitting more work to reputable pubs and journals for consideration. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be blogging or posting through my social networks, but I will work harder on finding traditional markets to “accept” my work and build my credentials and clips.
Like Adam says, artists need to find their own path and walk it genuinely. For some, that’s the full-blown, make-a-living path. For others, it means giving, sharing, and submitting a little more generously while making some money in other ways.
I’m refining my own path, and it’s working for me. But I am, and always will be, an artist.